A new study published by the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) finds that tidal flooding caused by a rise in sea levels will “dramatically increase in US East and Gulf Coast communities over the next 30 years.”
Scientists analyzed 52 tide gauges from Portland, Maine to Freeport, Texas and found that most of the communities studied will “experience a steep increase in the number and severity of tidal flooding events over the coming decades, with significant implications for property, infrastructure, and daily life in affected areas.”
The report states that sea level rise, as a result of global warming, is the main cause of the observed increase in tidal flooding. The overall global sea level rise was about eight inches from 1880 to 2009, but much higher rates have been recorded along the East Coast, with the sea level in New York City rising more than 17 inches since 1856, more than 13 inches in Baltimore since 1902, and almost 10 inches in Boston since 1921.
The study predicts that by 2030, more than half of the 52 communities observed could experience, on average, at least 24 tidal floods per years, with 20 of the communities seeing “a tripling or more in tidal flooding events.”
By 2045, scientists predict that “many coastal communities are expected to see roughly one foot of sea level rise.” One-third of the 52 communities would face tidal flooding almost 200 times a year, and nine locations, including Atlantic City and Cape May, New Jersey, could see 240 or more tidal floods per year. Chronic flooding would become the new “normal” in these locations.
“Increased tidal flooding is essentially guaranteed,” read the report. “Changes already set in motion by our past and present heat-trapping emissions will largely drive the pace of sea level rise and flooding over the next several decades.”
Despite the inevitability of the increase in flooding, the authors say there are numerous things that can be done to “help ensure enduring coastal communities.” They suggest towns, along with state and federal help, should prioritize and incentivize flood -proofing homes and key infrastructures, curtail development in areas prone to tidal flooding, consider the risks and benefits of adaptive measures like seawalls and natural buffers, and develop long-term plans based upon the best available science.
“Leaders at all levels of government need to take seriously the risks facing people living along our coasts and the urgent need for action,” wrote the authors. “We must prepare our communities for encroaching tides and other impacts of sea level rise even as we make a concerted effort to reduce the heat-trapping emissions that will determine the rate at which the ocean rises over the long term.”
Watch a video about the tidal flooding projections from UCS.